NEW YORK -- After playing with him for more than a decade, Carmelo Anthony said he's never seen New York Knicks teammate J.R. Smith get on a run like he has recently.
And that run is helping the Knicks play some of their best ball of the season as Smith's season-high 37 points led New York to its seventh straight win Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Smith received help from Anthony who added 32 points.
While helping the Knicks beat the Charlotte Bobcats 111-102 to extend the NBA's longest current winning streak, Smith also showed off the rare air he's in by accomplishing something no Knick had done in at least 42 years.
He scored more than 30 points off the bench for the third straight game, something that hadn't been accomplished by a Knick since the NBA began noting starters in boxscores in the 1970-71 season.
"His confidence is sky-high. We're following his lead right now," said Anthony, who played with Smith for five seasons with the Denver Nuggets as well as the last two years with the Knicks. "I never saw him actually play the way he's playing now. I've seen him have his spurts, but the way he's locked in right now and his focus. ... I haven't seen that in a long time."
The Knicks (45-26), as a whole, are on a pretty good run now, with Anthony saying they were starting to "trust one another" again as they had at the start of the season, when the Knicks raced out to an 18-5 start. The bond has helped them put together their longest winning streak of the year without injured center Tyson Chandler, who was out again Friday.
They busted out to a big lead on the Bobcats (17-55), who entered the game with the worst record in the league, but had played better recently, winning three of their last five.
Charlotte fought back in the fourth quarter to get within seven in the final minutes after trailing by as much as 30.
"They jumped us in the first quarter," Bobcats coach Mike Dunlap said as the Knicks used a 21-4 spurt to gain a 38-20 lead after the first. "They are a hot team and now they've won seven in a row. ... The second half we end up with plus-13, win the third and fourth quarter, but it was too much to overcome."
Gerald Henderson led Charlotte, scoring 35 points. Kemba Walker scored 18 points, ending his streak of three games with 20 or more points.
The Knicks opened a 69-47 halftime lead, the second straight game in which they entered the half with a lead of more than 20 points. Smith led New York at the break with 23 points, while Anthony added 17 and Felton scored 10.
"I'm just making a conscious effort to attack the basket, getting to the free-throw line," Smith said of his recent hot streak. "I'm gonna keep going to the basket, that's for sure."
Dunlap noted Smith's new approach has made him one of the top candidates for the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award
"He's going more and more to a penetration game and it balances out the 3," Dunlap said of Smith, who was also made both of his 3-point attempts. "The coaching staff has encouraged him do to that. You can see it on film, you can hear it during the game, and all of his teammates are very supportive of that.
"It was something even in Denver he could do, but he just didn't go to it enough. Now he's found it and I don't think he's going to return. It's a problem."
The Knicks also led by as much as 30 for the second straight contest and watched their huge advantage shrink to single digits late in the game.
The Bobcats used an 18-6 spurt in the fourth quarter, capped by a layup by Josh Roberts to make the score 102-95 with 2:02 left.
But, as they had when the Memphis Grizzlies threatened a late comeback, the Knicks held on for the win. Smith responded with a basket and, after Henderson made two free throws to cut the lead to seven with 32 seconds left, Anthony hit two more free throws to help seal the game.
Kenyon Martin then blocked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's shot and a review overturned a goaltending call before the Knicks boosted the lead back over 10.
"You like to win big when you are up big, but to me a win is a win," Knicks coach Mike Woodson said. "We are not closing it out the way we should. I don't know if that is fatigue with the older guys. I think when we get Tyson back, it will be one more piece and I can free them up a little bit more."
NOTES: Chandler was out for the ninth straight game with a bulging disk in his neck. Woodson said before the game he was not sure when Chandler would return, and that the team was taking a cautious approach with him. ... Indiana alum Woodson held an orange in his hand while addressing reporters at Friday morning's shootaround to pay off a bet he lost to Anthony, when Syracuse topped the Hoosiers in the NCAA tournament. ... Bobcats center Byron Mullens (sore left ankle) was a late scratch. ... Walker, who is a Bronx native and starred for the University of Connecticut, said he was "excited" to return to New York and also embraced his budding role as a team leader, saying it was "cool" and "fun." ... To celebrate Knicks legend Walt Clyde Frazier's one-of-a-kind stylin', beguiling persona on his birthday Friday, the Knicks handed out bobblehead dolls of the former guard and current announcer. The doll, as did Frazier, wore a cow-print suit, just one of the many wardrobe selections that prompt the Knicks to feature a popular "Clyde's Closet" segment at home games.